Queenslanders in the AFL – Round 14

By Peter Blucher.

Adrian Fletcher, a 231-game AFL player born and bred in Hobart, won the Leitch Medal as the best player in the Tasmanian Football League as an 18-year-old in 1988. He also played in the TFL grand final and won the Glenorchy best & fairest, and yet he finished the year disappointed.

Partly responsible was Lions coach Chris Fagan. Not for anything personal, but because a 27-year-old Fagan, a star of Tasmanian football in the twilight of his playing career, was a key member of  the Devonport side that beat Glenorchy by 43 points in the grand final.

It was the start of a long emptiness in Fletcher’s outstanding career as he waited until 2003, after his time in the AFL was over, to win a senior premiership with Williamstown in the VFL.

Last Thursday, going on 35 years later, Fagan more than repaid the debt when he delivered news that brought more joy to the popular football journeyman than anything he did in his own career. Fagan made his son Jaspa Fletcher an AFL player.

And on Friday night Fletcher Snr had what he labelled “the greatest joy ever” when, in an emotional moment with wife Narelle by his side, he presented his son with his AFL jumper ahead of his debut against Sydney.

There was barely a dry eye in the room as, after saying a few words about his son and his football journey, he broke down before hurriedly handing over the #28 and giving the Lions’ 346th player a big hug.

Fletcher Snr has been a football man for as long as he could walk. From playing in the juniors in Hobart to Geelong (1989-91), St.Kilda (1992), Brisbane (1993-97), Fremantle (1998-2001) and Williamstown (2002-03) and coaching at Collingwood (2002-03), Geelong (2004), Collingwood (2005-07) and Brisbane (2008-13) before he joined AFLQ as U16 and U18 High Performance Coach (2014-18), coached the first Tassie Mariners U18 side in the NAB League in 2019 and Sherwood in the QAFL in 2021-22.

Fletcher Jnr, born in Melbourne on 24 February 2004, is remembered at Collingwood for walking through the football rooms as a two-year-old wearing a Magpies jumper.

Having grown up in a sporting household, with Narelle having played 295 games in the Women’s National Basketball League, he began his own football journey at Coorparoo, and played at Sherwood in 2021-22 while a member of the Lions Academy and the Queensland Under 18 program. A product of Brisbane State High School, he captained the Allies at the national U18 championships last year.

In an extraordinary coincidence, captain of the Victorian side at the same carnival was none other than Will Ashcroft, son of Brisbane champion Marcus.

After their fathers played together with the Bears/Lions from 1993-97, Will and Jaspa are now not only teammates but housemates, destined to play together for a long time and every reason for Lions fans to think their future is in good hands.

Fletcher was always the ‘other’ Lions father/son prospect when the media was looking at the 2022 AFL Draft, but only because of Ashcroft’s extraordinary junior career. He was clearly the #1 player in the talent pool despite eventually being drafted at #2 after GWS, knowing Brisbane would match any offer Ashcroft, took Aaron Cadman at #1.

Lions recruiting boss Dom Ambrogio knew full well that he was going to need a mountain of draft points to claim Ashcroft and Fletcher at the draft in Melbourne on 28 November and was privately hoping Fletcher might slide into the second round.  

He wasn’t so lucky. Not even close. The draft was barely into stride when the Western Bulldogs lodged a bid on Fletcher at #12. There was no hesitation. The Lions matched the offer and claimed two (or more) players in the first round of the draft for eighth time.

They got Nathan Chapman (#2) and Justin Leppitsch (#4) in 1992, Nigel Lappin (2) and Chris Scott (#12) in 1993, and Luke Power (#5) and Shane O’Bree (#10) in 1997. Billy Longer (#5) and Sam Docherty (#12) followed in 2011 before Josh Schache (#2) and Eric Hipwood (#14) in 2015, Hugh McCluggage (#3) and Jarrod Berry (#17) in 2016, and the hot trio of Cam Rayner (#1), Zac Bailey (#15) and Brandon Starcevich (#18) in 2017.

There are some classy pairings, but after Fletcher’s debut against Sydney in Round 14 Lions fans can rest comfortably knowing they’ve done it again.

Wearing the number #28 worn in his father’s era by Ray Windsor, Ross Lyon and Ben Robbins, and most often for the Lions by Lewis Taylor, Fletcher was full of class playing on the wing as he became the first ‘Jaspa’ in Brisbane history.

His first goal was special. Involved in the play on centre wing, he charged forward as the Lions won possession through Darcy Fort, who moved the ball sideways through Darcy Willmot to Devon Robertson.

Fletcher was 40m ahead of ball as Robertson chipped it to him. He took it at full pace, stepped inside Aaron Francis, took a bounce, burnt off Ollie Florent as he ran to 40m and banged it over the goal umpire’s head.

He was already one up on his old man, who by chance debuted for Geelong against Brisbane at Geelong in 1989. He didn’t kick his first AFL goal until his second game.

Fletcher finished with 1-2 which could easily have been two or even three goals to go with 13 possessions (five contested), five inside 50s and five score involvements from 65% game time, restricted by heavy cramps late in the game.

It said plenty about the Fletcher attitude and confidence that in a game in which the Brisbane stats sheet showed only two running bounces, the teenage debutant, with the eyes of the football world on him at a pressure-packed moment, had the composure to do what he did and slot the goal.

It was a mini Tasmanian reunion at the Gabba on Friday night for Fagan, Fletcher and another prominent Queensland football identity who played in the 1988 TFL grand final.

Dion Scott, only 18 at the time and later to play 79 AFL games with Sydney and Brisbane, shared in the Glenorchy premiership with Fagan before he and Fletcher were drafted to the AFL six weeks later.

The trio could talk for hours about what was one of the most infamous games in Tasmanian football history, with a massive brawl erupting before the first bounce caused in part by a brass band failing to leave the ground on time.

With the players in position and ready to go the game was held up for the band and all hell broke out. So fearsome was the brawl that the umpires decided to the match without waiting for the siren to sound, and ultimately six players were reported on 15 charges and suspended for 17 matches.

There were no such histrionics at the Gabba last Friday night, but it will always be a night to remember for Queensland, when Ashcroft and Fletcher played together for the first time.

Ashcroft had 23 possessions, including a season-high 16 contested possessions, and nine clearances to rank among his side’s 16-point win to poll four votes in the AFL Coaches Association Player of the Year Award. Only Zac Bailey (10), Lachie Neale (6) and Sydney’s Harry Cunningham (5) polled more.

Keidean Coleman, back in the starting side after being the substitute in round 13, had 20 touches and back, while Eric Hipwood took 10 marks and kicked two goals. And in the Sydney side, Tom Hickey had 13 possessions (11 contested) and 34 hit-outs for the Swans.

Jack Bowes returned to the Geelong side after a seven-week absence as the starting side in a loss to Port Adelaide, Richmond’s Ryan Samson enjoyed the thrill of playing in Trent Cotchin’s 300th game, and GWS’ Lachie Keeffe, in game #101, was an important contributor to their 70-point win over Fremantle to get their season back on track.


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